Alter’s top grad Kunesh stars in the classroom and on the stage

It seems Charlotte Kunesh has a little bit of the Clark Kent/Superman duality going on. Is she more hard-charging science and math student by day, or silly, fun-loving theater kid at night?

If you ask folks at Alter High School, she’s pretty darn good at both.

Kunesh just graduated as Alter’s 2020 valedictorian, she’s a National Merit Finalist based on her test scores, and she’ll study molecular biology in the fall at Princeton University, ranked the No. 1 college in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

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But when asked what things stand out most about her time at Alter, the Washington Twp. resident kept coming back to theater.

“I’ve always felt pulled between the arts and STEM,” Kunesh said, referring to science, technology, engineering and math. “It’s been very interesting trying to balance those two loves that are polar opposites.”

Kunesh has held lead roles in multiple theatrical productions, both for the Alter Castle Players and for Dayton’s Muse Machine organization. During her time at Alter, she said the school went from holding performances in the gym — “we called it our gymatorium” — to a beautiful new Conservatory of the Arts building.

“Theater has been my biggest passion and extracurricular,” Kunesh said. “It has been really cool to geek out over the new facilities and new technology. I love Alter Castle Players. That’s been a huge place for me to grow.”

She credited some of that development to Alter drama teacher/theater director/choreographer Megan Wean Sears. Kunesh said Sears was her biggest role model other than her parents, teaching her to focus on growth and not fear of failure.

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Sears said Kunesh has superior skills, as well as influential leadership and a big, sharing heart.

“Having a student with one of those exemplary qualities is rare enough. But all of them?” Sears said. “Charlotte is one of those students and continues to raise the bar for her peers and everyone she encounters.”

Like the rest of the Class of 2020, Kunesh had the end of her senior year mangled by the coronavirus-related shutdown. She was doing publicity work for Alter’s spring musical the day the Gov. Mike DeWine announced closure of schools … eventually leading to the cancellation of that performance.

“I just miss the personal interaction,” she said. “It makes you realize how much you took for granted going to school every day. Now I would happily wake up at 6:30 a.m. to go to school. I would love to do that.”

She hopes she’ll get to actually go to school again in the fall. Princeton said it will decide in early July whether students will be on campus or taking classes virtually. While she majors in molecular biology, she’ll minor in both theater and musical theater.

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“I’m very, very excited, and I’m definitely nervous,” Kunesh said. “Especially going to the East Coast. I don’t know anyone in the entire state of New Jersey, so it’s very daunting for me after growing up here my whole life.”

She said she’s been thinking lately about how much Alter has meant to her. She said online school in the fourth quarter made it clear how much her teachers cared, not just about academics, but in checking up on students’ well-being. She cited English teacher Jennifer Schlangen, who she had as a sophomore and junior, as someone who particularly challenged her to think for herself and grow .

Kunesh said she was surrounded by talented people at Alter and she knows she’ll be pushed at an even higher level at Princeton. She said some of her motivation comes from trying to emulate her parents, doctors John and Sarah Kunesh. She called them “great examples of what hard work looks like.”

But she also said she has a “goofy, silly side” that many of her friends in the arts have. Kunesh said her goal is probably to go to medical school and become a doctor, but she hopes to keep theater a part of her life as well.

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That balancing act will be nothing new for a student who juggled student council, Sunday School teaching and multiple club leadership positions on top of classes and theater at Alter.

“It helps to prioritize what’s important to you,” Kunesh said. “If you’re passionate about something, at the end of the day, (the work) will be worth it. … I can’t imagine not trying my best.”

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